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What I would pray for, if I prayed

Thursday, December 20, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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Boy in Wardak village, Ghor

I have left Afghanistan. While it hasn't entirely sunk in that I won't be heading back there after the holidays there is a quiet ache in my heart that tells me I do understand, on some level, the significance of this departure.

I learned to love Afghanistan. Unlike Gaza it was not love at first sight. Afghanistan was a challenge, I had to overcome my fears and doubts and my own desire to be in control before I could really learn what this extraordinary country had to teach me.

As I drove to the Kabul Airport yesterday morning, on the first day of Eid, I saw the large group of men on the corner of Butcher Street hoping to be picked up for day labour. I was struck by a wave of sadness at the incredible struggle that is life for so many ordinary Afghans.

On the first day of Eid these men should be home with their families, thanking God for the blessings of the year which has passed. Instead they were standing out in the cold, misty morning chasing after each truck that pulled up hoping they would be picked to head off for a day of hard labour and the reward of a tiny take home pay, barely enough to cover the expenses of their families most basic needs, if that.

If I really believed there was a God or more accurately, if I really believed in divine intervention in the business of men, I would be down on my knees praying for Afghanistan. Praying for peace and stability, praying for a space from this interminable conflict – enough space for the people I met over the past two years to rebuild their lives and begin to build a future.

Instead I put my faith in those very people, having done my very best to support them over the past two years, having failed in so many ways and yet carrying home with me the satisfaction of those small successes and the knowledge that I did my best.

Leaving Afghanistan feels like the end of a difficult but precious love affair. On several levels that is exactly what it is. Despite all that Afghanistan has taught me, letting go continues to be my challenge.

Here in Dubai I am in transit, sitting for a few days in this strange space between my life in Afghanistan and my life in New Zealand. As I sank into bed last night this space terrified me for an instant. I felt entirely afloat, cutting my ties with one home, unsure of my ties to another. I felt as though I could let go and simply float away.

My instinctive response to that feeling was to want to get a grip on something, to hold on to the place I was leaving or grasp for the place I am going to. I stopped and breathed for a moment and then chose not to hold on, I chose to drift to sleep knowing that wherever I go, there I am. Knowing that there is no solid ground beneath any of us and that in these strange days I have the chance to really feel that truth and embrace it.

I'm going to take a break from writing here, and from visiting all your amazing blogs. I need to take a break from finding a way to put my transition into words and I need to be entirely present in every moment of my "homecoming". I plan to be back because I don't think that my story ends because I leave Afghanistan.

This year my challenge is to find a way to make peace in times of war while living the everyday life of a student in New Zealand. Over the past 18 months many of you who read and comment here have told me how difficult it is for you to see how you can make a difference in your lives. Moving to Afghanistan, or Gaza, is not the only option – obviously – in response to the challenges of our troubled world. I want to bring home the lessons I learned in Afghanistan and share here the journey of learning to live a life which makes sense and contributes to a more peaceful world without packing up and moving into the conflict zone.

I expect to be back in late January or early February so I wish you all happy and peace-filled holidays and many moments of joy and laughter with the people you love in the coming weeks.


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37 Responses to "What I would pray for, if I prayed"

  1. john Mullis says:

    . . . and so begins the next big chapter in your life, full of surprised and things you never dreamed would be possible. Good luck and keep in touch.

  2. amy says:

    thank you so much for sharing your wise words and lovely photographs during your time in Afghanistan. i don’t know you but i have a strong feeling that your compassion and courage will find expression in wonderful ways, quiet or noisy, no matter where you are. travel safely.

  3. We are waiting for the following story !!!For me, I loved opening your post and reading touching and wonderful things .
    I wish you the best for 2008 .
    Joyeux Noel et heureuse annÊe 2008

  4. susannah says:

    and so it begins…sigh… i’m so proud of you…. and being completely selfish for a moment, one of the things i am most looking forward to in the new year is being able to actually CALL you
    🙂 xoxox

  5. christine says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your energy here. May the new year be one filled with peace, joy and love for you as you embark on your new journey.

  6. Wish you holidays full of joy and love. Thank you for telling this story!

  7. Jill says:

    I’m wishing you happy holidays, too!

  8. SaraB says:

    wishing you safe travels, a joyous homecoming, and all the light and warmth of the holidays! i will miss reading you here each day, but i think i can make that sacrifice for you as you plunge (or dip your toes) back into being home. it is lovely and it is sometimes hard, but it does need our focus. there’s an owl here in oregon watching out for you, dear Frida! xoxo

  9. clara says:

    Thank you for your educational writing and pictures. Wishing you, the Afghans you leave behind and all mankind a peaceful, joyful and restful holiday season.

  10. Happy holidays. Now that I found you, I can’t wait to read this new chapter in your life’s adventure!

  11. Roy says:

    I’m glad you are going to take some time to center. It will take time. Now, that I am heading back I find I am getting anxious and starting to slip back into some old habits. May you find the peace you need, the support you desire, and the love you deserve.

  12. Diana says:

    Here’s a wish for a wonderful holiday season. I hope peace surrounds you. It will probably take a time to debrief, to grieve, to adjust, to settle in anew. Your words have helped me so much even though I am not living in a foreign country – but just in everyday challenges. I love your broader view of life, your thoughtful, gentle view, your heart for the hurting. Please continue to take us to the rest of your adventures when you return – whether in school – the next place – – or – – –

  13. Rachel says:

    Have enjoyed your blog – although I’m not sure that’s quite the right words because sometimes it has been hard/challenging/emotional to read. Look after yourself, I know you will be spending some quality time with your lovely whanau soon! I look forward to reading more of your writing in the new year.

  14. Di says:

    Have a lovely Christmas back home in New Zealand … I’ve held my breath as I’ve waited for word on you leaving and getting home again.
    Travel safe.

  15. Linni says:

    Thinking of you xx

  16. Swirly says:

    Oh how I love you so…this is so beautiful, just like you.

  17. susanna says:

    I’m going to miss your posts, Frida, but I am happy for your return to your family and friends back in New Zealand and I can understand why you need to take this break. I bet your mom and dad are jumping up and down in excitement for your return!
    I wish for you in the New Year, peace, calm, moments when you can relax and let go of all worries, health of course, many evenings laughing and catching up with old friends, and an abundance of love and creativity.

  18. tiny noises says:

    “My instinctive response to that feeling was to want to get a grip on something, to hold on to the place I was leaving or grasp for the place I am going to. I stopped and breathed for a moment and then chose not to hold on. . .”
    even as you lie in bed between worlds you are teaching me valuable lessons painted with beautiful thoughts. thinking of you and praying (yes, praying) for your transition home.
    safe travels, love. xx m

  19. cath says:

    lovely frida,
    best wishes for a merry christmas, and a peaceful new year. i look forward to seeing you here again in february!

  20. Kerstin says:

    Marianne – how odd it was for me to read your description about the strange place in between your two lives. I experienced a similar moment of terror two years ago when I transitioned from the UK to the US and spent a couple of days in Paris before our flight to Boston, feeling all displaced and “weird.” Yours has been an amazing journey, you are in fact an amazing person. I wish you a peaceful and smooth transition into the next chapter of your life. I’ll look out for you on here next year 🙂 All the best and have a wonderful Christmas! Kerstin

  21. Alex says:

    My dear friend, I’m so happy for you and this new phase of your life. You are so brave and still… Even braver now, for being true to yourself and making the decision to follow your heart. I can’t wait to hear all about Psychology School and life in New Zealand. Your words will be missed!!! Have a safe journey! xoxo

  22. ceanandjen says:

    May your journey home be safe. May your homecoming be welcoming, warm and wonderful and may your holidays bring you and your family much peace and joy. You have so much to look forward to; I hope that this transition is of the best and smoothest kind. I can not wait to hear more about this new chapter in your life. Sending you love and the warmest wishes. xoxo

  23. Paris Parfait says:

    So much to say, dear Frida. You have helped the Afghanis more than you know. For now, concentrate on having a joyous Christmas. Will catch up with you in the new year. xoxox

  24. Tickled Pink says:

    Blessings as you embark on many new spiritual, intellectual and physical journies. May 2008 be all that you dream it to be.

  25. Alexandra says:

    Bulgaria is definitely NO Afganistan but I remember when I moved back to the US after being there for two years it was an enormous adjustment so go easy on yourself and give it time. You should be really proud of yourself, however, for doing something so few people would and I hope the year ahead is filled with joy and much love and fulfillment. And of course, come back and visit us soon in Portland!

  26. That was an amazing post!! You always have a way of helping your readers feel the weight of your wisdom… Wishing you a joyous holiday back in New Zealand!! And may your transition not be so much of a transition but a step and a dance and a rest and enriching.

  27. Myrthe says:

    Dear Frida, I wish you happy holidays and a smooth transition into your new life as a student. Until you start posting again, I will miss your posts dearly, but I will wait patiently. I fully understand that you need time to get used to not being in Afghanistan anymore and to adapt to “the easy life” in NZ.

  28. welcome home…you set an amazing example for all of us…
    love and peace this year…

  29. Delia says:

    I hope you are settling in (and being gentle with that heart of yours)…your story is still being written, of course it is. This coming year is going to be full of changes…wishing you well in all of yours.

  30. Di says:

    Ufff, sitting here out in Europe, waiting to know if you got home and if Christmas in the land downunder was as lovely as I imagined it might be 🙂
    All the best in the new year!!!!

  31. Tropical Gypsy says:

    An old man was making his way to the Himalayan Mountains in the bitter cold of winter when it began to rain.
    An innkeeper said to him, “How will you ever get there in this kind of weather, my good man?”
    The old man answered cheerfully, “My heart got there first, so it’s easy for the rest of me to follow.”
    Dear wonderful soul, good luck on your next heart journey. Sending you much love and light.

  32. Laini says:

    Frida, I you are well and enjoying your home — and I hope the transition will not be too hard. I’m so glad I found your blog during this difficult and amazing period in your life. You are an inspiration. I look forward to seeing what the new year holds for you. Happy New Year!

  33. Maddie says:

    I wish you much love, joy and magic in your new year ~
    can’t wait for your new posts
    (warmest hugs)

  34. mahima says:

    i love this post.
    i’m sure 2008 will bring you much more joy, magic, surprises and things to be grateful for.
    love and hugs,

  35. michelle says:

    this post was such a beautiful tribute to your time in Afghanistan…filled with the wisdom of a woman who has let this time transform her…i am looking forward to reading the inspiring things you have to write about the next portion of the beautiful journey that is your life

  36. M.Kate says:

    really good reading and like this blog very much.

  37. homeinkabul says:

    Sending you much love, my friend.

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